My Body, Given for You
Carrie M. O’Connor
After dousing the garden-fresh Brussels sprouts with olive oil, I slide the glistening jade-colored nuggets in the oven to roast. I move to the granite kitchen island and flip my planner open. My checklist for the evening reads as follows: sew the ribbons on my daughter Brenna’s toe shoes, order tickets for “The Marriage of Figaro”—a fairly adolescent-friendly opera—, and find the apple butter I canned last summer to give to teachers.
I hear Brenna mutter across from me, “Were we really gypsies?”
“What?” I ask.
“School project. We need to write about our roots,” she says.
I glance at her, taking in her liquid green eyes and light brown curls. She looks so much like her father, who is in the study.
“We were Romani in France and you are one-quarter,” I say, grasping the stem of my wine glass, bringing the glass of Petrolo Galatrona to my lips.
I haven’t thought about my roots in some time. Raised by a Romani mother and an Irish American, I was the first woman in my family to go to college. I had an executive position when I married. Ironically, I gave it all up to stay home and make homemade baby food after I had Brenna. I started driving her to all her extracurricular activities. Private school applications needed to be filled out, so my daughter became my full-time job.
“So, did we wear wild red costumes, play mandolins, and party all the time? Did we do magic and shit?” she asks, crossing her arms over her royal blue cashmere sweater.
I scoff and mix organic ground turkey with cut vegetables and bread crumbs in a lemon yellow ceramic bowl. “Do I send you to that fancy girls’ school so you can use words like that?” I say, blinking, resisting the images of Southern bling weddings and campers, as recently televised in a reality show about gypsies.
“Seriously. What was the family like?”
My hands push against the meat. “I don’t know. Your nana was very into the Virgin Mary,” I say.
I can still smell the tapered candles in the Orthodox church and the heavy incense from the censer. I remember the smoothness of the icon that we kissed as we entered the dark church. My legs, numb from standing during the entire service, had reprieve when we filed down the center for communion. “This is my body given for you. Do this to remember me,” the priest with the long white beard would intone before he spooned wine-soaked bread from a goblet for each member.
“Your nana, now, she had a mind of her own. She liked to dance, that one. Devout, but she still could shake her hips on the dance floor. Loved grunge.” I smile.
“And the generations before, Mom? I need to write this down.”
“Why the need for details? Tell them that we came to this country in the 1950s,” I say, slamming the meatloaf harder in the bowl.
“Because everyone has something to write down. I want something,” Brenna presses.
“It’s the past. It’s gone, munchkin,” I say, patting the meat into a pan. I reach into the freezer and pull out a rhubarb pie. The fruit came from our garden last year.
“Mom, I’ll call Nana if I have to,” she says.
I walk to the sink and smell the carnations that I bought at Whole Foods earlier today, trying to take in their calming scent. A good parent has self-control.
“Nana is out at the movies tonight,” I say, tending the stems. Two of them break.
“Mother, I need information,” she demands in the tone of a 3-year-old wanting a tricycle.
I take hold of a carnation and snap it in two.
“You need to know, huh? Fine. An entire generation of our family. Dead. Gassed by the Nazis. Your great-grandfather made it out because someone stuck him in the village midwife’s cupboard. There. Now you know.”
Our eyes meet. I realize what I have done and cup my mouth in shock.
She slams her book down. I listen to her shoes pound against the wooden floors as she runs to the library and into her father’s arms.
My hand shakes as I down another glass of wine.
I scribble in my planner, “Child psychologist reference. Find YA Holocaust books.”
The oven timer dings in the distance.
A fourth-generation native of Honolulu, Carrie M. O’Connor earned a M.A. in Journalism and Communications from Marquette University. She works as a writer and copy editor in Milwaukee. Her fiction has been published in Bamboo Ridge, The Vehicle, Bartleby Snopes, Wild Violet, and Auscult.